‘To Be Taught, If Fortunate’ by Becky Chambers – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

In the future, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of galaxy transform themselves.

*FROM THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE WAYFARERS* 

At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life.

Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

A new standalone novella from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Review

Becky Chambers is a freaking genius.

If you have any interest in speculative fiction about where we as a species could be headed then you really need to pick up any of her books.

‘To Be Taught If Fortunate’ is a short novella about longterm space mission to study four planets light years away from Earth. There are four members of the crew of the OCA spacecraft Merian; Ariadne O’Neill, Elena Quesada-Cruz, Jack Vo and Chikondi Daka.

But instead of getting caught up in stereotypical space opera style events this book takes the form of a message sent back to Earth from the viewpoint of Ariadne who is the flight engineer onboard.

And in this message are the details of their exploratory and investigatory mission so far…

But also it reveals so much about what it means to be human. It poses probing questions asking about the importance of scientific research and whether a mission seeking knowledge is truly relevant to us as a species.

Ariadne’s message is split into four parts as the crew of the Merian visit four different planets: Aecor, Mirabilis, Opera and Votum. And on each planet we are treated to both easy to understand and incredibly fascinating speculative science as the crew engage in their information gathering and laboratory research.

But we also get to delve into the psyches of these four people and how the mission affects each of them in different ways.

This book is truly brilliant. Everything feels so authentic that I almost believed that I was reading a real space report…

But it’s the humanity of the piece that really captured me. So much so that I found myself crying at the end of the book because there was just so much heart and feeling in it.

It’s a book about what it truly means to be a human and as a trained research scientist myself I was both deeply moved by and really emotionally connected with the hunger and thirst for knowledge that was illustrated in the book.

Highly recommended

five stars

As the Secretary General of the United Nations, an organisation of one hundred and forty seven member states who represent almost all of the human inhabitants of the planet Earth, I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship – to teach, if we are called upon; to be taught, if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet and its inhabitants are but a small part of this immense universe that surrounds us, and it is with humility and hope that we take this step. –

Former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, 1977, as recorded on the Voyager Golden Record.
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